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Video: DARPA Demos Its ARM Robot

Ever wondered what it would look like if a robot grabbed you by the face?

1 min read
Video: DARPA Demos Its ARM Robot


Ever wondered what it would look like if a robot grabbed you by the face?

On Monday we brought you an extensive video montage showing the most impressive robots we saw on the show floor of the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in St. Paul, Minn., last week. After seeing that video, many of you wrote in to ask for more footage of the DARPA ARM robot (the one that pried the camera from our weak human hands and spun it in the air). No problem!

In the video above, Patrick Rowe from RE2, the Pittsburgh firm hired by DARPA to build the robot, which apparently is called "Robbie," describes its main components and capabilities. Later this year, a copy of the robot will be sent to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and RE2 is developing games and tasks for visitors to interact with the robot. The challenge is to give visitors as much control of the robot as possible without allowing them to, er, destroy it.

The DARPA ARM program, which seeks to revolutionize robot manipulation, is coming to its final phase, in which the remaining teams will face some tough challenges, including changing a tire of a small car. It remains to be seen whether the program will fulfill its goal of significantly advancing robotic manipulation (whose progress has been glacially slow), but one thing's for sure: You don't want to get your face too close to Robbie.

Image and video: Erico Guizzo & Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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